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THE IRISH EMIGRANT :: December 8, 2008 | Print |  Email
Monday, 08 December 2008


Issue No.1,140 - the complete edition

THE IRISH EMIGRANT

December 8, 2008        Issue No.1,140

The free news service for the global Irish community

Editor: Liam Ferrie                      ©2008 Irish Emigrant Ltd

 

Summary

Headline Stories

  • Aer Lingus again in Ryanair's sights
  • Food scare sweeps country
  • Miraculous escape for nine as friend drowns
  • Economic downturn accelerates
  • Concern over pension funds
  • Moriarty pulls rank
  • Ringsend incinerator gets go ahead
  • Prostitution ring broken

Bits and Pieces

  • Legal Aid Bill out of control
  • Petrol and diesel prices slow to fall
  • No further increase in the price of electricity and gas
  • Dublin City Council plans new social housing programme
  • Malin and Valentia rescue centres to be retained
  • Cocaine found by maintenance workers at Shannon
  • Tiger-kidnappers target An Post employee
  • New effort to resolve Shell gas dispute
  • Don't try to bring religion into Christmas
  • Snippets:
  • National Lottery Winning Numbers:

Northern News

  • Bill for policing services parade larger than forecast
  • Two arrested in failed kidnapping ransom scheme
  • Robinson and McGuinness at Fortune 500 dinner
  • Man drowns in fall from cruiser on Lough Neagh
  • Reality show featured man convicted for fraud
  • Maze escaper's challenge to deportation rejected
  • Inquiry hears allegations against murdered solicitor
  • Attack on Armagh house of Polish woman
  • Loyalists can retain weapons for another year
  • Other News:

The Courts

  • Two convicted of Waterford rape
  • Two in court after Galway robbery
  • 24-year-old jailed for life for mistaken identity  murder
  • Other cases:

Employment & Industrial Relations

  • 200 Internet jobs for Galway
  • Two new job announcements in Cork
  • Job losses around the country
  • Aer Lingus ground staff accept deal
  • RTÉ highlights exploitation of immigrant workers

Politics & Politicians

  • "Stroke" Fahy retrial begins
  • Changes to national pay deal not being discussed
  • Former FÁS chief questioned by politicians
  • Government loses Seanad vote
  • Taoiseach visits EU leaders

Health

  • A&E unit opens at Mercy Hospital Cork
  • Health minister withholds consultants'  salary increase

Travel & Tourism

  • Increase in duty-free allowances
  • Partial approval for Galway's outer bypass

The Irish Abroad

  • Irish among holidaymakers stranded in Thailand
  • IRA past ends English political career of Dublin woman
  • Roy Keane quits Sunderland
  • Volunteers build 250 houses in South African township

Education

  • More surprise at success of fee-paying schools
  • Minister's educational concession fails to halt protests

Entertainment & The Arts

  • The Gate Theatre celebrated its 80th birthday last weekend
  • RTÉ's digital radio launched

Deaths

  • Gardaí fear missing teenager was murdered
  • Search for body in Dublin park
  • Road deaths in Counties  Sligo, Kerry and Donegal

Business News

  • Offaly tax defaulter has to pay €8.1m
  • Lower mortgage payments for many

Weather

S P O R T

  • G.A.A.
  • Rugby
  • Boxing:

Despite a new Ryanair takeover bid for Aer Lingus, a major food scare has become the weekend's dominant story. On Saturday evening it was revealed that dioxins had been found in Irish produced pork and that the source had been traced to an animal feed plant. While we were told that we would come to no harm if we had been eating the contaminated pork in recent weeks we were also advised to dispose of any remaining pork we have in our homes. Retailers were instructed to withdraw all pork products from their shelves and the hospitality sector to remove the meat from all menus.

The Ryanair bid came on Monday and was for just half the value of the previous offer of two years ago. While Ryanair might turn out to be good for Aer Lingus, we are unlikely to find out as the national carrier is said to have cash reserves that are greater than Ryanair is prepared to pay for the entire airline.

In the early hours of Friday a Swiss tourist drowned off the south west coast but the big news story was not of a life lost but of the nine who survived. The dead man's nine companions had a most remarkable escape when they ended up clinging to a small boat in stormy conditions in the dark.

Other stories in the past week included ever bleaker economic news, approval for the Ringsend waste incinerator, problems with the final report from the Moriarty Tribunal and the breakup of a people trafficking and prostitution operation.

Aer Lingus again in Ryanair's sights

The week opened with Ryanair tabling an offer of €1.40 per share for the entire stock of Aer Lingus, a bid that values the national carrier at €748m. The low-cost airline is already the largest shareholder in Aer Lingus with a stake of almost 30%. The two other big shareholders are the Government and the ESOT - Employee Stock Ownership Trust.

The all-cash bid offered a 28% premium on the average closing price of an Aer Lingus share for the 30 days to November 28, and was 25% higher than the previous Friday's close. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary argued that it was an attractive offer for both the Government and the ESOT and was seeking meetings with both. The unions were unhappy and Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey was non-committal.

If the takeover is successful Ryanair claims that it will create 1,000 new jobs and double the size of the Aer Lingus short haul fleet, from 33 to 66 aircraft over five years. It will also remove the fuel surcharge from long haul flights.

The Aer Lingus board formally rejected the Ryanair bid before Monday was out. In a statement it was claimed that the offer undervalues the airline. Michael O'Leary was bemused at this assertion and pointed out that the previous Ryanair offer two years ago was for €2.80 per share. This he recalled was rejected for the same reason although the board has since watched the share price plummet.

Despite the Aer Lingus statement, Ryanair proceeded with its offer. In an effort to convince existing shareholders that the takeover would be good for Aer Lingus, details of an improved offer were announced on Thursday evening. No more cash was on offer but Ryanair committed to recognise the Aer Lingus unions, to restore the Shannon-Heathrow service and to vest control of all the Aer Lingus Heathrow slots to the Government.

These changes were made after Ryanair management had a meeting with Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey. The Government has yet to comment on the new conditions but the trade unions remain vehemently opposed to such a takeover.

The Government has yet to make its views known but it is thought to be tempted by the possibility of realising some €180m in these troubled economic times. The unions remain vehemently opposed although the ESOT has still to comment. The usual argument against the move is that it would eliminate competition on many air routes out of Ireland. That, of course, was never an issue before Ryanair came on the scene. Ryanair's previous bid was blocked by the European Commission on competition grounds but the world has changed over the past two years and in the meantime the Commission has approved a number of mergers involving major airlines.

Only occasionally were we told that Aer Lingus has cash reserves of around €800m. If that is the case, as it appears to be, it should be simple matter to fend off the Ryanair bid and it certainly would support the argument that the offer grossly undervalues the national airline.

Food scare sweeps country

We are in the midst of a major food scare which started late on Saturday when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced that a dioxin known as PCB had been found in pig meat. Concentrations of the dioxin were between 80 and 200 times the level that is considered safe.

It was explained that the problem had been tracked back to one animal-feed plant and that it had probably first appeared there in September. This plant supplies nine pig farms but as the pork from these farms is processed with pork from other farms it isn't at this stage possible to isolate the affected products.

As a result of the finding the FSAI instructed retailers, the hospitality sector and the Irish pig processing sector to recall from the market all Irish pork products produced from pigs slaughtered in Ireland. The FSAI is also advising consumers, as a precautionary measure, not to consume Irish pork and bacon products at this time.

This sounds like drastic action and is making headlines here as well as in Britain, Belgium and Holland, the main export markets for Irish pork products. Sunday's television news bulletins showed empty supermarket shelves and trolleys, piled high with products containing pork, being wheeled away from the public gaze. 

While we are being told to dispose of all pork products in our fridges and freezers we are also being assured that there is no need for alarm, even if we have been eating pork regularly in recent weeks. Apparently we would need to be eating the contaminated pork on a regular basis over many years before we might face some ill effects, one of which is cancer. One expert likened it to someone smoking a single cigarette, an action which of itself would have no short-term or long-term effect on the smoker's health.

Over the coming days efforts will be made to identify the products that are contaminated and to get safe pork products back on sale as quickly as possible.  Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said that this will happen in a matter of days.

The situation on refunds is not clear. Tesco is the only supermarket chain to comment on that aspect but it says it will only make refunds on Tesco-branded products.

By Sunday evening it had been established that nine pig farms in the North had also used the contaminated animal feed. The reaction there was not so severe. Consumers were told to hold on to pork products until further notice. In another development it was reported by RTÉ that the source of the contamination is Millstream Power Recycling Ltd, which is based outside Fenagh in Co. Carlow.

Miraculous escape for nine as friend drowns

One man drowned and nine others survived when their boat sank off the coast of south west Cork in the early hours of Friday morning. A party of Swiss nationals flew into Cork Airport at 11:30pm on Thursday intending to spend time on Coney Island, which is owned by Irishman Michael McGill who normally lives in Switzerland. It was well after midnight when they set out from Colla Pier, south of Schull, to make the half-mile journey to the island in a small open boat with an outboard motor.

According to a local lifeboat man the engine failed and by the time an auxiliary engine was started the boat had drifted off in the wrong direction. As an attempt was made to turn it around the boat was swamped in the rough conditions and all the occupants ended up in the sea.

One of the ten managed to swim ashore and made his way to a house on nearby Long Island where he raised the alarm. The other nine clung to the upturned boat and spent up to three hours in the water before they were washed on to Long Island. All but one of the remaining men were trying to warm up in a vacant house when the lifeboat crew arrived on the scene. The lifeboat crew also found the body of the lone victim lying on a beach on the island. The survivors were all taken to Bantry Hospital but none was detained.

A local coast guard officer was astonished that there were any survivors. Michael O'Regan said that 99 times out of 100 all ten would have drowned. He was also doubtful that any of those involved had been wearing a life jacket.  The man who died was aged 62 while the others were aged between 55 and 62.

Economic downturn accelerates

The latest monthly Exchequer returns once again proved to be much more disappointing than predicted, indeed the rapidly increasing budget deficit was described by the Opposition as "calamitous".

Tax collected in the first 11 months of the year was almost €7.5bn below the budget forecast and it is now anticipated that the shortfall will be €8bn by year end. When Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan delivered the 2009 Budget six weeks ago he predicted a shortfall for this year of €6.5bn.

Commenting on the figures Mr Lenihan ruled out tax increases but said that further cuts in spending were inevitable. http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=5559

No sooner had we digested that news than we were further depressed by the latest unemployment statistics. The Live Register total continued to climb and reached 268,586 at the end of November. An additional 16,635 people lost their jobs or were put on short time during the month, the highest monthly increase ever. Over the course of the last year the number signing on the Live Register increased by 106,864 or 66.1%.

The standardised unemployment rate is now 7.8%. This is an estimated figure extrapolated from the 6.3% rate in the third quarter of 2008, the latest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from the Quarterly National Household Survey.

Some 36,000 of those included in the Live Register are casual or part-time workers who qualify for some level of unemployment benefit. http://www.cso.ie/releasespublications/documents/labour_market/current/lreg.pdf

Concern over pension funds

According to a leaked Government memo, which appeared in last week's Sunday Tribune, the vast majority of the country's private pension funds are in danger of collapsing. Taoiseach Brian Cowen tried to calm fears by saying that Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin was monitoring the situation while the Minister later said that leaking the memo had created unnecessary panic.

An IBEC spokesman suggested that the main problem was the overly stringent rules governing the liquidity of pension funds. What is a very serious matter didn't receive a great deal of coverage after that.

In a closely related issue the Government has indicated a willingness to change the rules to allow people approaching retirement to postpone taking out an annuity for up to two years in the hope that financial markets will improve.

Moriarty pulls rank

Monday's Irish Times revealed that the newspaper had been forced to destroy 25,000 copies of the Saturday edition after the editor had been contacted by a solicitor acting on behalf of the Moriarty Tribunal at 11:30pm on Friday. Solicitor Stewart Brady insisted that a news item about the provisional findings of the Tribunal's final report could not be published as the details were confidential.

When he threatened to apply for an immediate court injunction to ban publication, editor Geraldine Kennedy felt that she had no option but to stop the print run. The alternative was to face the prospect of recalling truck loads of newspapers from around the country and to destroy more than 100,000 copies, if the injunction was granted.

The Sunday Business Post found itself in the same position 24 hours later but no attempt appears to have been made to restrict the editor of the Irish edition of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times.

In his final report Justice Michael Moriarty must rule on the process used to decide which company should be granted the State's second mobile phone licence back in 1996. Essentially he has to decide if former Minister for Communication Michael Lowry intervened in favour of Denis O'Brien, whose Esat Digifone company won the licence.

Justice Moriarty at one stage said that any witness against whom adverse comments were made would receive a preliminary copy of his report. It now appears that a number of people who were senior civil servants when the licence was awarded have been given copies of the final draft.

The Government received its copy almost two weeks ago and  the Department of Communications issued a statement to some newspapers before withdrawing it for legal reasons. The Irish Times was unable to publish all the details of this statement as to do so would have revealed details of the draft report, but the newspaper was able to say that the Department is most unhappy with the  findings and is mounting a strong challenge to them.

Last week's Sunday Times indicated that the Tribunal is disputing the evidence of the senior civil servants Who dismissed the possibility that the former Fine Gael minister could have influenced the granting of the licence. The process, they said, was designed to ensure that no outside influences were brought to bear. The newspaper went on to claim that Attorney General Paul Gallagher and Secretary General of the Department of Communications Aidan Dunning are heading a team that is preparing a strong rebuttal of the tribunal’s findings.

Ringsend incinerator gets go ahead

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted a licence for the proposed waste-to-energy incinerator at Poolbeg in Dublin. In doing so it imposed 216 conditions which, it claims, will ensure that the facility does not pose a health risk or damage the environment.

The controversial plant has been vigorously opposed by local residents and their political representatives, including local TD and Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who is also leader of the Green Party.  While the Minister quickly released a statement saying that he had no power to intervene, he went on to point out that "a fundamental review of waste management policy" is currently being undertaken by his department. He then warned that it would be "prudent that all local authorities involved in waste infrastructure development" should take that fact into account "before proceeding with any waste infrastructure projects".

Mr Gormley has a dream that waste reduction, increased recycling and new technologies will eliminate the need for incineration or landfill when dealing with waste. To add to his woes Fine Gael and Labour party politicians have been attacking him for allowing the concept of incineration to go this far. At the same time no one appeared to listen when he pointed out that it was the same two parties in coalition in 1996 who introduced incineration as an option for managing waste. 

Any further objections to the incinerator must be made to the High Court within two months.

Prostitution ring broken

In a co-ordinated operation against those engaged in people trafficking and prostitution, gardaí, the PSNI and police in Wales raided a number of premises and arrested ten people.

On Wednesday a total of nine brothels were searched throughout this jurisdiction, in Cavan, Drogheda, Athlone, Mullingar, Sligo, Kilkenny, Enniscorthy, Newbridge, and Waterford. In Carlow gardaí also searched houses and the offices of accountants and solicitors, seizing computers and documentation. Seven women, from Brazil, Namibia and Nigeria, were found in the brothels and are now being cared for by the authorities.

Media reports suggest the gardaí were targeting a violent Carlow-based criminal and his family. The seven who were arrested in the Republic, all Irish, have been released without charge while a file is being prepared for the DPP. The current status of a man arrested in Newry is not known.

In Wales,Thomas John Carroll (47), a native of Carlow, has appeared in court on charges of human trafficking, controlling prostitution and money laundering. Shamiela Clark (31), believed to be from South Africa, was similarly charged. Both had an address in the small Welsh village of Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire.

Bits and Pieces

Legal Aid Bill out of control

According to data obtained by the Irish Times the State had to pay a total of €44m to solicitors and barristers under the free legal aid scheme in 2007. The largest amount, €1.48m, was paid to solicitor Michael J. Staines, who presumably operates a large practice. Barristers don't work in practices and the highest sum paid to that profession was €357k, to Patrick Gageby.

The cost of the Free Legal Aid scheme has been rocketing in recent years, in 2004 it was €26.7m, prompting Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan to call for reform of the system.

Petrol and diesel prices slow to fall

According to the Fine Gael party Irish consumers are paying more for petrol and diesel than their counterparts in other EU countries. The party's finance spokesman, Richard Bruton, claimed that the pre-tax price of petrol is 24% higher in this country, while diesel costs an additional18%.

There has been no official confirmation of that but no one doubts it. The price at the pumps clearly fails to follow the price of a barrel of oil on the way down as quickly as it did on the way up. The media, however, does not seem to have a record of the price at the pump when the price of the barrel was last below $50.

Here in Galway the price of a litre of both petrol and diesel is 104.9 cent atg almost all filling stations. Last weekend we travelled to Donegal and the prices varied from 99.9 cent to 113.9 cent.

No further increase in the price of electricity and gas

We were supposed to be grateful for the news on Monday that the Commission for Energy Regulation had refused to sanction an increase in the price of gas and ordered a reduction of less than 1% in the price of electricity. Both Bord Gáis and the ESB had applied for the price increases some months ago but had recently acknowledged that they were no longer required.

Among those welcoming the announcement was Ann Fitzgerald, chief executive of the National Consumer Agency. She thought this was "good news for consumers" but I'm sure I am not alone in wondering why she was not demanding significant price reductions. Just a few months ago, when oil and gas prices were at their peak, the energy regulator approved price increases of 20% for gas and 17.5% for electricity.

Dublin City Council plans new social housing programme

Following the failure of an agreed Public Private Partnership programme which was supposed to regenerate five areas of Dublin and deliver a mixture of private and social  housing units, Dublin City Council has decided to develop the areas in its own.

The council has agreed a €95m programme to replace run-down blocks of flats in three areas with a total of 417 new housing units. It will, however, be a number of years before all the new homes become available as construction work will not begin on the first of the sites until 2010.

Malin and Valentia rescue centres to be retained

The marine rescue centres at Malin and Valentia are to be retained after the Government decided to ignore a controversial proposal which called for the closure of both, as well as the Dublin centre. The campaign to retain the stations was supported by many outside Donegal and Kerry and there was a broad welcome for the news, in fact there were no critics.

On Tuesday Minister of State for Transport Noel Ahern said that the Government had taken "into account the various views expressed" in reaching its decision. It was also decided that the Dublin centre will remain in the capital but that it will be relocated to new purpose built premises.

Cocaine found by maintenance workers at Shannon

Cocaine weighing 2.2kg and worth an estimated €158k, was found on board a passenger aircraft that arrived at Shannon Aerospace on November 29 for routine maintenance.  The drugs were concealed in an overhead lighting unit.

It was almost a year to the day that a similar discovery was made at the airport, also on board a Dutch-owned Martinair aircraft. On that occasion just over a kilo of the drug was found.

Tiger-kidnappers target An Post employee

In the latest tiger-kidnapping case the wife and children of a postmaster were taken from their home in Sutton, Co. Dublin on Thursday morning. At the same time the man was taken to the Post Office in Edenmore, Dublin 5. There the gang forced him to open a safe and then escaped with an undisclosed sum of money, believed to be around €200k. The man's wife and two teenage children were later released in the Portmarnock area.

New effort to resolve Shell gas dispute

The new Forum for Development in North West Mayo had its first meeting on Friday but none of the groups opposed to the Corrib gas pipeline was willing to take part. This was their response to the stance taken by Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Éamon Ryan who will not be asking Shell Ireland to change the location of gas treatment centre at Bellinaboy.

Some 900 workers are currently employed in the construction of the €300m terminal which two-thirds completed.

The Forum was recently established by Minister Ryan and Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív in a final effort to reconcile the different sides in the argument.

Don't try to bring religion into Christmas

Theologian Fr Enda McDonagh was one of many critics of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland's ban on a radio advertisement which the Catholic publisher Veritas wanted to put on air. Fr McDonagh suggested that anything to do with religion is "no longer acceptable" in today's Ireland and questioned the accuracy of the term "pluralist Ireland".

The BCI banned the first two drafts of the ad and still found fault with the third, which read: "Cake and crackers, Santa and stockings, turkey and tinsel, mistletoe and mince pies, and presents and puddings. Christmas - aren't we forgetting something? This Christmas why not give a gift that means more?".

The ad went on to describe the presents that could be bought from Veritas but it was the words "Christmas - aren't we forgetting something?" and "Why not give a gift that means more?" that offended the BCI. It also objected to a call to visit www.veritas.ie

Snippets:

  • The old Astoria ballroom in Bundoran was destroyed by fire last Saturday night. In its heyday it was regularly packed by dancers who travelled for miles to see all the leading showbands.
  • It is no longer advisable for boatmen and anglers to leave outboard motors on their boats when moored on the edges of our lakes and rivers. In recent times outboards have been systematically stolen from Lough Corrib, Lough Mask and Lough Derg.
  • The two bodies representing the country's publicans, the LVA and the VFI, on Monday announced a one-year price freeze. One of the most notable symptoms of the current recession is said to be a move from drinking in bars to drinking at home.
  • As the recession takes hold the St Vincent de Paul Society reports that it is receiving more and more requests for help, including calls from people who used to be donors. The society expects to have spent an average of €1m per week this year as it distributes cash, clothes and vouchers for food and fuel.

National Lottery Winning Numbers:

  • Wed: 4, 15, 17, 18, 22, 31 (30) - the jackpot of €5.52m was not won
  • Sat: 3, 18, 28, 31, 35, 41 (29) - the jackpot of €6.39m was not won

Northern News

Bill for policing services parade larger than forecast

While Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde told a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster that the cost of policing the armed services parade in Belfast last month would be in the region of £300k, the Irish News reported that it has reached £480k. Hundreds of officers and three helicopters were used to monitor the homecoming parade, and the latest figure is set to rise further, with most of the money paid in overtime costs to police officers.

Two arrested in failed kidnapping ransom scheme

Two men were arrested by the PSNI after fleeing City Cemetery in west Belfast, where they had arranged to collect ransom money after a tiger kidnapping of the relative of the manager of a Belfast petrol station. The manager alerted the police when he received the ransom demand and undercover police were at the cemetery. The two men, who have both been arrested before in relation to tiger kidnapping, were later released without charge.

Robinson and McGuinness at Fortune 500 dinner

During a four-day visit to the US, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, told business leaders at the Fortune 500 dinner in Washington of the many excellent investment opportunities in the North. Before leaving Washington the two men had a meeting with President Bush. They also included New York in their itinerary.

Man drowns in fall from cruiser on Lough Neagh

Martin Wylie (42), a father of two daughters from Ardboe, Co. Tyrone, drowned in an unfortunate accident on Lough Neagh on Monday night. His body was recovered from the lake the following day.

An extensive search was mounted late on Monday when the Lough Neagh fisherman fell from a cruiser as it was approaching a pier near Kells Point on the western shores of the lake. He was preparing to tie the vessel up and it is thought that he may have slipped on ice. Two others on board the vessel threw lifebelts into the water before two lifeboats and a helicopter with search lights arrived on the scene. After some two hours the search was abandoned for the night; it was felt that he could not have survived that long in the cold conditions.

Reality show featured man convicted for fraud

"Chasing the Dollar", a programme made for the BBC and supported by Invest NI and the University of Ulster, was found to feature a man who is a convicted fraudster. The programme centred on six businessmen competing for the title of University of Ulster Entrepreneur of the Year which would lead to assistance in expanding into the US. Four of the six have now complained that the programme, originally intended for a prime slot, has been "buried" since it was revealed that Brad Turkington had served a jail sentence for fraud.

Maze escaper's challenge to deportation rejected

Pól Brennan, one of those who escaped from the Maze prison in 1983, has had his legal challenge against deportation from the US rejected, and now faces imminent extradition to the North. However he is to appeal the decision to a higher court and in the meantime will apply for bail to be with his wife and family. In the early 1990s Brennan was charged with illegally entering the US but was allowed to remain while a decision was made about his residency status.

Inquiry hears allegations against murdered solicitor

At the inquiry into the 1999 loyalist murder of Rosemary Nelson (40), a former Special Branch officer alleged that the Lurgan solicitor had been passing confidential case information to members of the IRA. He also claimed that the RUC had information that Mrs Nelson was involved in an affair with prominent IRA member Colin Duffy. No evidence was offered to support either allegation.

Under the terms of the inquiry these allegations were made in a submission from someone who has not been identified and who cannot be cross-examined by counsel representing the Nelson family. The submission appeared on the inquiry website. Its relevance to an inquiry into allegations of RUC collusion in Ms Nelson's murder has not been explained.

Attack on Armagh house of Polish woman

A stone was thrown at the window of the house of Isabella Kolecki, her Portuguese partner Mapricio Soares and her two sons, Damon and David, in the early hours of Tuesday morning. This was followed by two petrol bombs, the second of which injured her in  the arm. The PSNI say they are looking for a motive for the attack, and have not yet conceded that it might be racist.

Loyalists can retain weapons for another year

The British Government is pushing through legislation which will keep the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning functioning for another year. At the same time loyalist paramilitaries have been given yet another year to dispose of their arms.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan and leading DUP politician Jeffrey Donaldson both thought it was time that loyalists got rid of their guns but while Mr Durkan considered it a mistake to give them any more time Mr Donaldson was willing to wait for the extra year.

Other News:

  • Figures released by the Department of Finance and Personnel show that 95% of the department's staff travel first class when they undertake cross-border train journeys. With a first class fare of £60 as opposed to a £36 standard fare, the bill for the department between 2004 and the last financial year came to almost £17k. 
  • PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has confirmed that he has applied for the post of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Sir Hugh began his career there 31 years ago and has been head of the PSNI for the past six years. The head of the London police force is seen as the top police position in Britain.
  • Arson is suspected as the cause of a fire at Presentation Primary School in Portadown, Co. Armagh last weekend. The canteen and dining area were extensively damaged and playground equipment destroyed in the blaze, which is believed to have started in a shed.
  • The border village of Belcoo in Co. Fermanagh was named Ireland's safest village. It has an average of one crime per month and this is usually committed by an outsider. In the most recent incident someone kicked over a flower pot.
  • It was reported that convicted IRA killer turned Special Branch informer, Seán O'Callaghan, has received £80k from the Omagh Victims Legal Fund. It seems that he was retained by a firm of solicitors for 2.5 years to help in dealing with the media and in fundraising.
  • A jury found Seán O'Hara (19), of Derry, not guilty of raping an American student outside a pub in the city last year. He had been accused of raping the young woman at knife[point outside the Bogside Inn where they had met earlier.
  • William Stevenson (44), of Ballygally, was jailed for at least 25 years for the murder of his neighbour in Finaghy in 1988. Advances in DNA evidence led to the conviction of Stevenson who had been questioned about the killing Elizabeth Smyth (66) after her death.

The Courts

Two convicted of Waterford rape

A jury at the Central Criminal Court on Monday found two men from Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford guilty of the rape of a woman at her home in Waterford city in August 2006. The court had been told that John Connors (25) and Patrick Moorehouse called to a house in Waterford purporting to sell a camcorder, watches and jewellery. When the 24-year-old woman who lived there told them that she didn't want to buy anything the men forced her into the house. Once inside she was taken to a bedroom where she was raped  by each of them while the other restrained her by holding a rope around her neck.

Connors and Moorehouse are both now on the sex offenders register and have been remanded  in custody for sentencing in February.

Also at the Central Criminal Court on Monday, David Power  (26), of Brittas, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, pleaded guilty to the rape of a woman in a shop in Nenagh in January of last year. Power has previously served sentences of five years and three years for sexual assaults on women in Cork in 2000. He will be sentenced on February 2.

Two in court after Galway robbery

I failed to mention a robbery in Galway in last week's edition. At least three armed men held up Hartmann's Jewellers in the city centre at lunchtime on Friday, November 28 and escaped with watches valued at around €10k. Road blocks were set up in the county and two men were arrested near Athenry shortly before 5:00pm.

On Monday Eugene Cullen (25), from Crumlin in Dublin, appeared before Galway District Court where he was charged with robbery. At the same sitting his associate, Gavin Carabini (26), from the Maryland area of Dublin, was charged with failing to appear at Dublin District Court on the day of the robbery; he was due before the court on an earlier robbery.

24-year-old jailed for life for mistaken identity  murder

A jury found Bryan Ryan (24), of Blanchardstown, Dublin, guilty of the murder of Ian Tobin (25) at a house in Blanchardstown in May 2007. Mr Tobin was shot through the door of the house by a gunman who intended to kill his brother, Blake Tobin. Ryan had driven the unnamed gunman to the scene of the crime on a stolen motorbike and then took him away before burning the bike.

Ryan had claimed that he did not know that his passenger had a gun and thought the plan was to frighten Blake Tobin. Evidence was given, however, of Ryan saying he planned to kill Mr Tobin. Justice Barry White imposed the mandatory life sentence on Ryan.

Other cases:

  • A 59-year-old Cork father has been jailed for ten years for the rape of his two daughters when they were children. The man pleaded guilty to sample charges but the court was told that the girls were abused on an almost daily basis from the age of six to 11. The assaults took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Paul Randle (40), a former member of the British Army was jailed for two years after he pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to two gardaí. Both officers were stabbed when they called to Randle's home in Mount Nugent, Co. Cavan.
  • Judge John Neilan was applauded by a packed courthouse when he dismissed 19 summonses brought against a man who employed young people at his filling station after 10:00pm. Legally they finished work at 10:00pm but Judge Neilan considered this nonsense, saying that nobody was concerned at young people hanging around street corners or taking drugs after 10:00pm .

Employment & Industrial Relations

200 Internet jobs for Galway

It was announced on Monday that Boston-headquartered Internet retailer CSN Stores plans to create 200 jobs at a new European operation in Galway. The IDA Ireland backed venture was announced by Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív. Over the next three years CSN will be recruiting customer services, IT and sales and marketing personnel, many with multilingual skills.

Two new job announcements in Cork

Option Wireless Limited is to create an additional 145 jobs at its facility on Kilbarry Industrial Estate in Cork. The Belgian-headquartered company already employs 300 at the site.

Option NV designs, develops and manufactures devices that provide high quality wireless access to the Internet and this new investment will establish the Cork facility as Option’s main centre for global supply chain and fulfilment.

That news came on Monday as did the announcement from Quinn Insurance that it will establish a new call centre at Little Island in Cork, with plans to create a total of 500 jobs over the next five years.

Job losses around the country

The FBD insurance company plans to close 13 of its 47 offices, with the loss of some 150 jobs. The decision is attributed to a change in the pattern of buying insurance with more and more transactions being conducted over the Internet or by phone.

The industrial diamond company Element Six Ltd is seeking 150 redundancies from its staff of 620 at its Shannon manufacturing and distribution facility. A spokesperson described this as part of a global rationalisation programme which is also affecting the company's plants elsewhere. The redundancies are due to take effect before the end of the year.

Heineken, which recently acquired the Beamish & Crawford brand, is to consolidate all its brewing activity at its existing Cork facility. This will result in 120 redundancies with just 40 of the Beamish staff being retained. Beamish is believed to have been operating from the site for more than 300 years.

Aer Lingus ground staff accept deal

Ground staff at Aer Lingus have approved the deal negotiated by the SIPTU union which will result in redundancies, early retirement, lower pay and flexible work practices, but avoids outsourcing. The agreement is expected to save the airline €24.5m per year.

At that stage the deal still depended on a sufficient uptake in the redundancy and early retirement programmes but that aspect has since fallen into place. The most controversial aspect of the agreement is that some of those who will collect large redundancy payments will be rehired, albeit on lower salaries with a requirement for increased flexibility. Management and unions believe that such an arrangement will still qualify for the attractive tax treatment available to genuine redundancy programmes.

RTÉ highlights exploitation of immigrant workers

RTÉ's Prime Time programme on Monday focused on the exploitation of foreign workers, with two issues predominating.  The programme makers found instances of women from outside the EU working as domestic servants for long hours with little pay and poor food. Some women from the Philippines appear to have been very badly treated by their employers.

The second problem is in the road haulage sector where the law is being routinely broken. Truck drivers from eastern Europe are often forced to work far in excess of the legally permissible number of hours. Among those appearing on the programme was Jimmy Quinn, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association. He has since stood down from the role on a temporary basis. Mr Quinn is suing RTÉ for libel by questioning him on an unrelated matter.

Politics & Politicians

"Stroke" Fahy retrial begins

Michael "Stroke" Fahy, the Galway County Councillor who is accused of misappropriating local authority funds, is before the courts for a second time. Cllr Fahy served most of his one-year sentence following his conviction on the same charge but he then won his appeal and a new trial was ordered.

The former Fianna Fáil politician is accused of using a community involvement scheme funded by the council to have fencing erected on his private lands.

Changes to national pay deal not being discussed

In the wake of the publication of the latest Exchequer returns the Opposition wanted to know if the Taoiseach was ready to abandon the recently agreed national wage agreement. In response Mr Cowen was essentially non-committal but he did reveal that he had been in discussions with ICTU and IBEC. This gave the impression that the national wage agreement was being renegotiated but later in the day a union spokesman said that the agreement had not been discussed. That night a spokesman for Mr Cowen also made it clear that the talks had not touched on the pay deal.

Former FÁS chief questioned by politicians

Former FÁS director general Rody Molloy appeared before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Thursday as it investigated a number of issues arising at the State training and employment agency. He told the committee that he had been under the impression that he was entitled to travel first class but now accepts that this was wrong and was particularly inappropriate in an agency that often dealt with the underprivileged in society.

He went on to defend the 16 overseas trips he took over 3.5 years and claimed that his former colleagues would agree that it was difficult to persuade him to fly; he had a "problem with flying".

Also appearing before the committee was FÁS chairman Peter McLoone. The IMPACT trade union leader gave no indication that he was ready to resign although he too had availed of first class travel to Orlando at a cost of €7,308.

Government loses Seanad vote

The Government parties suffered the embarrassment of losing a vote in the Seanad on Thursday. Two Green Party senators failed to arrive in time for the vote and there was confusion over the pairing arrangement which a Fianna Fáil senator thought had been agreed. There was further confusion when the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad failed to see the Government Whip stand up to call for a walk-through vote, the result of which would have superseded the electronic vote.

The vote in question was on a new Charities Bill and a Fine Gael/Labour amendment was carried. This called for sporting organisations to be deemed as charitable so that the legislation would also apply to them.

Taoiseach visits EU leaders

Taoiseach Brian Cowen had a busy week, visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday and France's President Sarkozy on Friday. This was all part of the Taoiseach's efforts to find a solution to the Ireland's failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

On Saturday the Irish Times claimed that Mr Cowen is coming under concerted pressure from EU leaders to commit to a rerun of the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Health

A&E unit opens at Mercy Hospital Cork

After sitting idle for 20 months the €4.7m state-of-the-art A&E unit at the mercy University Hospital in Cork has opened. The delay was caused by a dispute over the number of staff need to run the unit but when it opened on Wednesday it was with the same staffing levels that ran the old unit. Some sections of the new facility remain cordoned off as the Irish Nurses Organisation claims that additional staff are required   before they can be commissioned.

Health minister withholds consultants'  salary increase

Minister for Health Mary Harney told the Dáil on Friday that she is withholding €68m in salary increases and special payments, earmarked for hospital consultants, until she sees solid progress on agreed changes to work practices. Ms Harney said she would review the situation in the new year but added that retrospection would be considered separately.

Travel & Tourism

Increase in duty-free allowances

The EU has significantly increased the value of goods that can be brought into the community from a non-member State. Until now travellers could bring in items worth €175 in addition to their tobacco and alcohol allowance. From December 1 this increased to €430.

The one-litre limit for spirits is unchanged, the wine allowance increases from two litres to four litres and there is now a 16-litre limit on beer. There is no increase in the allowance of 200 cigarettes but individual states are free to reduce this, on health grounds, to 40. Ireland, like most other states, is retaining the 200 limit.

Partial approval for Galway's outer bypass

An Bord Pleanála has approved part of the controversial Galway city outer bypass but withheld permission for the section to the west of the Corrib, on the basis that the route would take it through sensitive bog land.

This outcome is causing major disappointment to many in Galway, although it has been welcomed by those living along the route as well as by An Taisce. What happens next is anyone's guess.

The Irish Abroad

Irish among holidaymakers stranded in Thailand

The Department of Foreign Affairs estimated that about 250 Irish holidaymakers were among the many thousands of people who were unable to leave Thailand due to the unrest which had grounded all aircraft at Bangkok's two main airports. The department was urging all Irish passport holders in Thailand to complete the Travel Registration Form on the DFA website. The suggestion also goes to all Irish passport holders heading for unusual or risky destinations. https://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=40333 

IRA past ends English political career of Dublin woman

The Irish News had a fascinating headline on Wednesday, in "Top Tory councillor quits over IRA past". This related to the resignation of Maria Gatland as cabinet member for children's services and adult learning on Croydon Council in England. Elected as a Conservative councillor in 2002 it suddenly emerged that the Dubliner had, in 1973, written a book entitled "To Take Arms: My Year With the IRA Provisionals" which was published under her maiden name of Maria McGuire.

In her role on the council, Ms Gatland had produced a report calling for major changes in the council's education system. Her proposals encountered hostility and one of those opposing her plans, who also had a great interest in Irish history, decided to expose her past.

Ms Gatland's Tory colleagues did not react at all well to the revelations and I think it is a safe bet that her political career in England is at an end.

Roy Keane quits Sunderland

It was announced on Friday that Roy Keane had stood down as manager of the Sunderland soccer club. We have been assured  that it was the Cork man who made the decision following a series of bad results that have seen the English soccer club slip into the relegation zone. This was the only story that mattered in Friday's tabloids.

Volunteers build 250 houses in South African township

This year 2,000 people, mostly Irish, volunteered to spend a week building houses in South Africa in the annual Niall Mellon Township Trust building blitz. At the end of the week they had completed 250 house in the Khayelitsha near Cape Town. http://www.irishtownship.com/htm/about.htm

Education

More surprise at success of fee-paying schools

When the Irish Times publishes the details of the schools attended by the latest entrants to the country's universities I am never quite sure of the purpose. It could be to highlight the inequity of a system that virtually ensures that attendance at a fee-paying school results in entry to a third-level college or it could equally be to provide a guide to the best schools for those parents who can afford school fees.

The newspaper published a special supplement on the subject on Thursday and the Irish Independent was so excited that it used the story as its own lead, announcing that "Fee schools stretch lead in race for top courses".

Anyone who stops to think about it would quickly come to the conclusion that parents are not going to bother paying for their offspring's education if they didn't believe it would give them the edge over those children who attend State or free schools. Whether we approve or not, that is the way it is going to be unless fee-paying schools are banned or taxed out of existence.

If the fee-paying schools were at the top of the list there were also free schools with remarkable success rates.

Minister's educational concession fails to halt protests

Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe announced on Thursday that he was making €2.7m available for the payment of substitute teachers in second-level schools. The Minister did not see this as a climb down on his stance to date on Budget cuts, instead his spokesman said it was an example of education partners working together. The cash was made available after school managers agreed €16m in savings.

This development had no impact on a planned protest in Dublin, one that was largely organised by the INTO, which represents primary school teachers. RTÉ estimated that 60,000 protesters marched through the capital on Saturday. Those taking part included parents, teachers, children, opposition politicians and other trade union activists. The latest disastrous Exchequer returns did nothing to halt the calls for more money to pay more teachers.

Entertainment & The Arts

The Gate Theatre celebrated its 80th birthday last weekend

The Gate Theatre celebrated its 80th birthday last Sunday night and also the 25th anniversary of Michael Colgan's arrival there as artistic director. The occasion was marked by staging 25 two-minute excerpts from some of the most memorable productions to be staged at the Gate and these were performed by 25 of the country's leading actors, including David Kelly, Rosaleen Linehan, Niamh Cusack, Michael Gambon and John Kavanagh.

RTÉ's digital radio launched

After 18 months of trials RTÉ has launched its Digital Audio Broadcast service with six new stations. The DAB service, however, requires listeners to purchase new radios although these are not yet available for cars. Only those living in the greater Dublin, Cork and Limerick areas can pick up the signals. Those in the know technically claim that RTÉ is simply aping the BBC and ignoring a newer, more flexible digital system, Digital Radio Mondiale. DRM is being adopted in other European countries and can be broadcast on AM, LW and SW.

Deaths

Gardaí fear missing teenager was murdered

It was reported on Monday that a missing Roma teenager was murdered by a south Dublin criminal and her body dumped in the Grand Canal. Marioara Rostas (18), who arrived in Ireland from Romania last December, has been missing since January 6 when her younger brother saw her getting into a car being driven by a man.

According to RTÉ, gardaí received two anonymous phone calls, from which they have concluded that Ms Rostas had established some sort of relationship with the criminal but he later shot her and disposed of the body and the gun in the canal. He also burned the house in Dublin's south inner city which she had been living and in which she was murdered.

Two men and two women, including the chief suspect, were arrested ten days ago and held over the weekend, but all have since been released.

Search for body in Dublin park

Gardaí in Dublin on Monday closed off a section of St Anne's Park in Raheny without offering any explanation. According to various media sources, however, information had been received that a man had been murdered and buried in a specific area of the park ten years ago. The search continued for at least three days but the media then appeared to lose interest.

Road deaths in Counties  Sligo, Kerry and Donegal

  • Black ice was blamed for a collision between a car and a truck at Clevery, Castlebaldwin, Co. Sligo on Monday morning. The accident claimed the life of the driver of the car, David Maye (22), a law student  from Strandhill, Co. Sligo.
  • Noreen Lane (34), of Kilflynn, Tralee, was fatally injured when she was struck by a car while walking outside the Co. Kerry town at around 5:00pm on Tuesday.
  • Icy conditions were blamed for another fatal accident involving a car and a truck in the north west, shortly after 11:00pm Thursday. The driver of the car, Fergal Whelan (24) from Ballygawley, Co. Sligo died in the collision at Barnesmore Gap, between Donegal town and Ballybofey.

Business News

Offaly tax defaulter has to pay €8.1m

The latest quarterly list of tax settlements by defaulters yielded more than €24m . Just over one third of the total, €8.1m, came from Condron Concrete Ltd, of Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Almost two thirds of this covered interest and penalties. Condron's settlement is the third highest on record.

Also in the latest list of 111 people and companies are Joseph Ryle, a fancy goods and toy retailer of Tralee, Co. Kerry, (€1.058m); Robert Tracey, a retired farmer of Blackrock, Co. Dublin (€996k); William Forker, retired builder from Dungloe, Co. Donegal (€825k); McKeogh Bros (Ballina) Ltd, builders of Killaloe, Co. Clare (€739k); and two others in excess of €500k.  

Lower mortgage payments for many

Most of the country's banks have reduced mortgage interest rates in line with the 0.75% cut announced on Thursday by the European Central Bank. Those that failed to act immediately came in for media criticism. Ulster bank and First Active, both owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, are limiting their decrease to half a percentage point..

Weather

Temperatures failed to reach double figures throughout the week. Monday morning brought icy roads. Rain fall was limited to Wednesday evening, Thursday morning and a number of heavy showers on Friday. At other times we had long sunny periods.

Heavy frosts were a feature of Friday and Saturday nights but after a chilly Sunday it turned much milder after dark. The frosts will be back again tonight and tomorrow night but that should be the end of the current cold spell. The milder weather will also bring rain on Thursday and more rain and gales next weekend.

Latest Temperatures: Day 6C (43F).................Night 9C (48F)

S P O R T

G.A.A.

Leinster SFC Final

    Kilmacud C 2-7    Rhode 1-7
    (Dublin)    (Offaly)

Munster SFC Final

    Drom/Broad 0-6    Kil/Ibrick 0-5
    (Limerick)    (Clare)

Ulster SFC Final Replay

    Ballinderry P    Crossmaglen P
    (Derry)    (Armagh)

Rugby

Heineken Cup

    Clermont A 25    Munster 19    
    Leinster 33     Castres 3
    Ulster 26     Scarlets 16

European Challenge Cup Pool One

    Dax 0    London Irish 38
    Rovigo 20    Connacht 35

AIB League Division One

    Blackrock C 29    Buccaneers 12
    Galwegians 14    Dolphin 29
    Garryowen 20    Cork Con 19
    Shannon 6    Clontarf 8
    St Mary’s C 18    UL Bohemians 6
    Terenure C 19    Old Belvedere 15
    UCD 6    Ballymena 16
    Young Munster 16    Dungannon 17

Sports Shorts

Boxing:

World lightweight champion Katie Taylor's return to Ireland on Monday was widely covered. Questioned by journalists as to her plans, the 22-year-old spoke of her dreams of an Olympic medal in 2012. Her sport has yet to accepted by the International Olympics Committee.
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